Will surrender to political activism hurt the NFL?
We do not have to debate whether the National Football League (NFL) has reversed its policies on political expression and activism. That is obvious. It was not long ago that the Washington Redskins refused to bow to pressure to change its name. It has now bowed.
The NFL once enforced its ban on social activism when former quarterback Colin Kaepernick wore police-as-pigs socks – and he got bounced out of NFL football altogether when he first remained seated and then knelt in protest during the playing of the National Anthem.
Today – under the new rules – players and teams can promote a wide range of politically correct causes and movement – some of which have partisan undertones. One can believe that “all lives matter” and still have concerns about All Lives Matter, Inc. which is a philosophy and largely partisan organization. Wearing the Black Lives Matter name on a helmet, jersey or shoes is making a divisive partisan statement.
A call to “end racism” on the back of a helmet may be a worthy goal IF – and that is a big IF — we are addressing the remnants of institutional systemic racism where it may exist – and to address those individuals who bear the greatest responsibility for its perpetuation. But to presume that the American people as a whole – presumably, white people, that is – are inherently racist is a political canard perpetrated for the political advantage of the Democratic Party
We can probably all agree that tribalism is divisive and not healthy for a nation that has e pluribus unum as its motto. And yet, much of the impetus for the current wave of racial unrest is based on tribalism – which we currently dub “identity politics.”
When the NFL decided to play “Lift Every Voice and Sing” — which is widely described as the Black national anthem — alongside the official American National Anthem, the League was advancing tribalism. The battling anthems is an expression of disunity. In everything from wars to the Olympics, national anthems are played to represent divergent and opposing groups. If you are an American citizen, there is only one National Anthem. Only one flag. Only one Pledge of Allegiance.
It is obvious that the NFL has a problem. It faces the demands of the largely Black players and the less racially motivated fans in the stands – and in front of the television screens. I say the “less racially motivated fans” because the fans mantra is not pro-racism, but simply a demand to “skip the messaging and play ball.”
The initial action of players like Kaepernick has hurt the sport. That has been measured in opinion polls and in viewership statistics. It has gotten worse as the NFL further caved to the hardline demands of the more radical voices.
Black sportswriter Stephen Smith believes that the drop in viewership is just a temporary phenomenon. He argues that despite all the political movement symbolism we see on the field, there are still 60 minutes of football being played. He believes that the game will trump whatever the players do before and after the whistles blow.
Michael Smerconish, of CNN, conducted a viewer poll, asking if the NFL has gone too far in promoting social causes. The response was 71 percent voting “no” and 29 percent saying “yes.” That is not surprising since the CNN audience is overwhelmingly from the left side of the political spectrum – and probably not the most loyal of football fans. Such media “polls” have all the relevancy of a newspaper horoscope.
The more telling number is the 12 percent drop in television audience. That is a huge dip – more than one out of every ten fans. More concerning to the league is that the drop occurred during the Covid-19 shutdown when fans cannot go to the stadiums. It would seem that television viewership would increase during this period as hundreds of thousands of fans no longer have access to the stadiums.
It is also telling that the few fans who were allowed to sit in separated seats for the Kansas City Chiefs/ Houston Texans game booed the symbolic protesting on the field. You will never get unity by offending the other side.
(It is ironic that the Chiefs have not changed their name in these times of political correctness – and still play in Arrowhead Stadium. But they did ban the wearing of Indian headgear and war paint in the stadium. But I digress.)
Those most offended by the NFL’s actions may hope that it destroys the League. No, the NFL is not likely to be going out of business any time soon – although it may lose its place atop the list of the most viewed American sports. It is this writer’s humble opinion that the NFL will suffer a significant and permanent decline in revenues without making a meaningful contribution to civil rights and civic harmony. But in the final analysis, it is all about … the money.
So, there ‘tis.